Chernobyl is one of the best shows on television, and it perfectly fills the hole in my heart left by The Americans. The 5-part miniseries on HBO is moody and terrifying, with whip-smart writing about two enemies, one that we can see (the prideful Soviet regime, addicted to secrecy) and one we can’t (radiation that will ruin your cellular structure with silent aplomb).
If you had told me that my favorite show in 2019 was going to be about a mid-80s nuclear disaster in the Ukraine, I would have said, “That sounds about right.” If you had told me my favorite podcast in 2019 would be a discussion of each episode about a mid-80s nuclear disaster in the Ukraine, I would have said, “Yes, that also sounds about right.” My time in the car is spent on two things right now: murder (as in My Favorite) and the science of acute radiation syndrome. I live a life of anxiety, and I entertain myself with morbidity…and the Real Housewives.*
*Real talk, if you are not watching this season of the Real Housewives of NYC, you are missing out on the true golden age of television.
Chernobyl is a story of the human condition. Humans fail miserably. We lie, we suffer our own actions, and sometimes, we rise to the occasion. The best part of the series has been the cast — both patrician and plebeian — tasked with playing out that story. Here are my favorite three characters:
Who: A Liquidator that we meet in episode 4, sent in to exterminate the domesticated animals of Pripyat. Liquidators were the folks brought in to clean-up after the disaster, to prevent further problems and do their best at keeping radiation from spreading.
Why: After having to shoot men in Afghanistan, Bacho now has the job of shooting of everyone’s pets, including puppies. Resigned to his fate, he cares about his innocent charge, Pavel, in the only way he knows how, by giving him a lead “egg basket” to cover his balls.
Also why: His one rule for dealing with this awful job? Don’t let the pets suffer. If you are going to kill a dog, you better be quick about it. Bacho takes no shit but deserves all the vodka.
Who: Boris Shcherbina was a higher-ranking Soviet politician, placed in charge of dealing with the disaster and clean-up operations.
Why: Shcherbina is originally part of the cover up but is the most dynamic of any Chernobyl characters, as someone ultimately wants to do good but knows the utter bullshit he is up against, aka the repressive Soviet wheel of which he is a cog. At first, he is a part of the cover-up, but then works to find out the truth of what happened and protect the Soviet people (and the world),
Also why: I never knew I would find a Soviet committee member screaming at me while destroying a telephone to be such a turn on.
Who: The cantankerous head of the 400 coal miners brought in to dig underneath reactor #4 and install a thermal transfer system, to prevent it from melting down into the ground water.
Why: Glukhov is a tough — soot covered — cookie, and he knows how much the Soviet government needs him. He wields this power to keep the Council off his jock, literally, as the heat in the tunnel is so overwhelming that he has his men work naked as they dig and burrow. He is also competent AF.
Also why: He has Soviet Dad jokes.
What’s as big as a house, burns 20 liters of fuel every hour, puts out a shit-load of smoke and noise, and cuts an apple into three pieces?
A Soviet machine made to cut apples into four pieces.
You can find all Chernobyl episodes playing on HBO Go and HBO Now.
All images courtesy of HBO